For Kermit the Frog, it wasn’t easy being green but that’s nothing compared to being Arsène Wenger in a transfer window. The summer business, this morning’s headlines tell us, might well be over or at least the new signings part of it.
Not that the Frenchman said that or even hinted at it in his interview with a Swedish broadcaster. Then again, I didn’t need the interview to believe that anyway; we’re more concerned with selling players according to Wenger when he spoke to the media after Saturday’s defeat at Stoke.
It’s been a good week for that. A couple out of the door on loan, one permanently and a couple of clubs interested in Chuba Akpom. The problem is that none of that strengthens the XI. We’ve got enough squad players as it is, we need to improve the starting line-up. Of course, selecting players for their best position might well help with that…
Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that the summer represents any great step forward in moulding a squad to challenge for the title. Arsène is aiming at no more than the top four; the sound you heard at Stoke was the towel wafting in from touchline.
Last season’s disastrous winter/spring period hasn’t been a spur, a call to action. Wenger, by his own admission, caused the dressing room to become unsettled with speculation over his future and I believe the ripple effect of that is still felt with question marks hanging over the futures of Alexis, Mesut Özil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Not only in the heads of teammates but also in their own minds; it’s a distraction which impacts to varying degrees and on the situation they find themselves in.
Round & Round
There was an excerpt from Sir Alex Ferguson’s book which quoted the late Jimmy Sirrell about staggering the end of contracts for your best players. It’s about not letting the club be held to ransom or the manager appearing week. Arsenal didn’t take any notice of that part until it was too late.
It’s not rocket science but to hear Arsène railing against transfer fees once again is baffling. He is football’s Canute, only now the water isn’t round his ankles, it’s over his knees and rising. Time and again we’ve heard how the only way a manager can be successful in the transfer market is to treat the money as if it were his own. That works when it’s in short supply; you have to cut your cloth accordingly.
Now, with revenues at record levels, Arsenal’s cloth is bigger. It’s not a swatch, it’s a huge roll of material and all the evidence suggests that Arsène isn’t the right manager for that type of environment. It’s a tired roll-call of double-digit finishes behind the eventual champions; we’re always going into seasons a player or two short of being a very good side.
This summer changed football for good. I don’t dispute Arsène’s claim that English clubs pay a 50% premium but that’s what happens when your TV deals absolutely dwarf anything Europe’s other leagues can negotiate. The glee with which that was trumpeted around the globe came with consequences and paying a premium on transfers is one of them.
Arsène, you need to get over it.
Easy for You to Say
That’s not to say that a player’s worth shouldn’t be assessed. There has to be a limit to which the club is willing to go and it’s here that the disconnect between Arsène and the transfer market arises. By his own admission, he’s a financially conservative person. Treating the money as if it were his own was a good trait to have when funds were limited. He could have spent more but for a few years, there was no doubt that his was the right approach.
But not any longer.
Arsenal aren’t poor. The narrative of ‘Plucky Little Arsenal’ doesn’t work. Ivan’s words are increasingly hollow but with Arsène retaining control over transfers, we will never compete with the likes of Bayern because we are too passive in the transfer window. We’re the snotty-nosed kid whose face is pressed against the toy shop window watching the rich kids buy up the stock.
With our wealth, we should be in the queue.
It’s this part where Wenger’s disingenuity over a director of football hits us. I agree that a manager / coach should have the final say on whether or not a player is signed but not over the value at which that happens. His input is about whether the player fits into the squad not whether a deal is good value. Yes, by all means put a marker down as to what he thinks we should pay but when it comes to negotiations, let the money men work out the upper ceiling as far as a fee and wages are concerned.
Tell Us Where Our Future’s Formed
In this instance, Arsène’s binary presentation of the director’s role backfires. He painted the picture of a bogeyman who would impose his choices on the manager over players we sign or sell. It was never going to be that simplistic, surely? Question Wenger’s tactics and why we lost; hold the manager to account in a way the board are too timid to because they haven’t managed 1,000 games. That’s why Wenger made the choice so one-dimensional.
The reasons won’t change our current reality. Despite the evidence in front of his own eyes at the end of last season and the performances against Leicester and Stoke, it’s pretty clear that we’re not bringing anyone else in. Wenger said at the end of last season that we would have two or three new signings but no more.
I do wonder however, if this timidity is partly inspired with the knowledge that Alexis is leaving next summer for nothing. It won’t come as any surprise to learn that the manager and board decided to position the sale as having no impact, knowing that they could hold back this summer and go mad next.
One last hurrah for Arsène? You would bet against it.